Title: Just Playing/The Road Taken
Author: Ingela Bohn
Pages/Word Count: 315 Pages/272 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Michael and Jamie seem fated to make music together. But the thrill of playing soon turns into something more, something neither of the young men can handle. Unable to just stay friends, their only option may be to avoid each other completely. But when things start moving for Jamie’s band, a decision has to be made: either this is goodbye, or they risk everything and let Michael join.
Michael and Jamie have one single rule to follow in their new life as touring musicians. One single, simple rule: DON’T. Don’t ever touch each other. Don’t collaborate on the songs. Don’t share rooms and don’t even bloody look at each other without proper permission from the powers that be. But the music is suffering. The chemistry that made the band is gone, together with the happiness they once found in each other. It all seems hopeless, until they start thinking… Maybe there’s a chance to convince the record company that they aren’t getting up to anything fishy? Maybe if they create an innocent front, they can do what they like behind it? It seems like such a good idea. But when they ask Sapphire to act as their accomplice, they get more than they bargained for.
Review: Just Playing and The Road Taken are the first two (hopefully not the only two) books in the story of Jamie and Michael. Well, they are actually the story of Pax Cymrica, a rock band formed by Jamie and Michael. But more than the story of the band’s ups and downs and personnel changes, it’s the story of Jamie and Michael and the love they feel for each other, beginning at a very early age. They begin to explore their attraction in a joint masturbation session while camping as young teens. There are many hurdles to their having a relationship, the highest of which is that it’s the early 1970s, and they want to be rock musicians. There just weren’t out gay rock stars in the 1970s. Elton John and Freddie Mercury were both rumored to be gay, but no one dared say it as truth. There were very few out gay men or women in the early 70s, period.
When Jamie and Michael come to the realization that they can’t be lovers and they can’t force themselves to just be friends, they have to live completely separate lives. They form separate bands. They still live in the same town but have nothing to do with each other. An impromptu drop-in on Jamie’s band practice to get in out of the rain turns into Michael stepping in to jam with them. Michael winds up joining Pax just before they take off on the road to success.
This is the beginning of their real struggle: to make it in a tough business, to continue to create and perform great music, to put on their stage faces and their interview faces and their fan faces without ever touching or staring longingly at each other or, god help us, being alone together. The problem with this plan is that their chemistry, the feelings between them, were what made the music they created so great. The love and longing between them came through clearly in the music they made together. Without the ‘together’ part, the music didn’t cut it.
Someone comes up with the brilliant idea to involve Sapphire, a long-time groupie of the first band Pax toured with, and then of Pax themselves, to act as a beard for one of the men, allowing them to be together behind that front. Michael just couldn’t do it, and the record executive (nicknamed: O’Devil) was beginning to scream about the sexual vibes flowing between Michael and Jamie onstage, so Jamie took the plunge with Sapphire. If you’ve ever read any gay fiction before, I don’t have to tell you how that went.
During my reading of both these books, which I am reviewing as one because they felt like one, the end of Just Playing flowed right into The Road Taken, I was struck repeatedly by how different things are today, in 2014, than they were in 1976. I know there aren’t many out, gay, successful musicians even today. For some reason the world can accept homosexuality in many walks of life, but our athletes and musicians are supposed to maintain this societally imposed idea of ‘masculinity’ that doesn’t include lovers of the same gender. I find it as ridiculous today as it was forty years ago. Seriously.
Ingela Bohm, a ‘friend’ on Goodreads, whom I didn’t realize was an author, has created a cast of characters that draw the reader in. They feel real and you want to go to their concert to see the way Michael and Jamie play off each other on the stage. You want to hug Cal (their drummer and staunch supporter) for trying to allow them to be together in whatever way they can. You want to KILL O’Devil and beat Zoltan about the head and neck with his bass.
But most of all? You’ll want Jamie and Michael to admit they are meant to be together and just be. Ingela Bohm generated some really strong emotions in me, both about and toward her characters and their shitty situations. That’s the hallmark of a great writer for me. If I feel like lashing out violently (aside from in my real life!) or long to hold one of the characters about whom I am reading while they get through their pain, or cry along with them, I feel deeply satisfied as a reader. I’m not always up for an emotional read, but sometimes it’s just what I want. The Pax books packed (pun completely intended) an emotional punch.
And did I mention that Ms. Bohm also wrote song lyrics? It’s difficult enough to write 600 compelling pages of quality gay fiction, but to write the songs that your characters sing? Ingela Bohm is a force to be reckoned with in this genre, and I look forward to reading more from her. The Road Taken ends at the beginning of 1977. I hope Michael and Jamie won’t let Ms. Bohm sleep soundly until she gets them to a place in time where they can be together. The way two people in love deserve to be.
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